daily preciousness

Wednesday, August 23, 2000

taste of chocolate

I have a box of chocolates. It's white cardboard with shiny gold lettering. At about 3 1/2 by six inches, it holds a nicely sized portion of mints and peppermints. (That's about 9 by 15 1/2 millimeters for some of you.)

The candies inside are lucious little bite-sized drops. Strong tasting, they are grasshopper green mint sandwiched between thin wafers of creamy dark chocolate.

Also in the box there are bright white spearmint logs, dotted with tiny pink flavor crystals. The brown and green candies form a colorful checkerboard with the white and pink ones.

Even with the box top on, I can smell the sharp, strong scent of Fannie May's famous chocolates. These are some fine treats! They taste better than they smell.

I smile guiltily as I indulge myself in them. They weren't meant for me, at all.

But I'm eating them anyway. Call me decadent. Call me obscenely gluttonous. Call me a naughty, naughty J-blend. But realize that I'm only really guilty of being forgetful.

You see, the box is a souvenir I got from Chicago a few months back. I got it for Gavin, my friend from there who was out of town when I visited. He flew down to see me last week and spend time in Baton Rouge. (I set them aside to give to him when he came to visit me, but I forgot somehow.)

Although I'd originally planned to spend more time showing him around the city, we instead stayed in the apartment just spending time together.

It seems that he came down to see *me* rather than all the Southern sites. This is all well and good. But my inner tour guide was in complete turmoil. "Why doesn't he want me to show him around?" I kept asking myself. After weeks and weeks of careful study of local history and culture, after rehearsing a moving oration telling the story of the battle of Baton Rouge in the Civil War, I never got a chance to show off my stuff.

All for naught, since we didn't do the historical tour. But on the positive side, I got to relax and re-energize myself for the fall school semester, which started August 21st, the day after he left.

No. I'm lying. I didn't do very much research. I just started a file on local things to do. But I'm glad I had a chance to kick up my heels and rest my spirit.

Gavin's visit was a wonderful experience for me. Spending time with somebody as dear and sweet as this guy is very rare for me. I suppose I've gotten just a little jaded and cold since most of my friends now are a little on the darker side. Gavin was a great dose of sunshine into my cloudy existence. This fellow came all the way from Chicago just to stare deeply into my eyes, smile and intently say, "I want to take it all in: Jeffrey in three dimensions." He came just to hold me. He came just to spend time with a kindred spirit.

See, we'd never met before. At least not outside the virtual world. Sure, we'd talked on the phone almost daily since June. Yes, we had chatted online several times a week since late 1999. But we had never once met face-to-face. The webcam just isn't an adequate replacement for that.

So we meet. And I'm charmed. Completely.

While we started out a little awkward, by the second day I was very comfortable with him and he felt likewise. His quirky charm had worked its way into the cockles of my heart. And believe me, I was NOT simply thinking soley with my cockles, like I sometimes do. It was more than that. This guy and I have a special bond.

His eyes, just sparkling with energy and heart-felt emotions, were a delight to peer into and drink in. And I took large gulps.

I grew very comfortable with him staring at me. (Even on the last evening while we were together, he *still* was intently focusing on my three dimensionality, so that he could recall me completely when I returned to mere pixels on his computer monitor.)

My favorite moment of his visit was completely unstructured and unplanned. (It seems oddly obvious that this should be the case, in retrospect, considering Gavin's personality.) Spontenaity is not my strong point. So it's good that Gavin excels at it. (He invented it.) We were listening to a tribute CD that he'd help create. One of the artists had a dancey, fun version of a song from Gavin's favorite TV show, Sifl 'n' Olly.

So we just started dancing around my room like two drunken village idiots. Yes, we were partially performing for the webcam, but we were primarily entertaining ourselves. The end result was that I fully experienced the music and grew to appreciate it more, while he got to witness my conversion to the religion of Sifl 'n' Olly. (He's a registered priest of this religious movement.)

Another high point of the trip was when Gavin cut his hand and nearly spilt blood all over the living room at a party I was having. Luckily he averted the social stigma of causing a scene by running to the back of the house and seeking first aid. He only told me about that later.

All in all, it was a satisfying and energizing experience spending time with him. I could hardly imagine time with Gavin as being anything *but* energizing. He has a wonderful electric aspect to his personality. I suspect that everyone around him must feel it. That's probably why he gets so many stares as he walks down city streets. That's why he is certain to be a great actor one day. That's why I consider him a good friend, even though we've spent very little time together in close physical proximity.

I think of these things as I taste the chocolate that was meant for him, long after I'm out of his immediate vicinity.

I think about the hours we laughed together. I recall my realization that Gavin's deeply in touch with his ridiculous side (just like me). I mull over the muted pillow talk.

I imagine what it will be like the next time our paths merge.

I ponder these thoughts as I close the lid on the box of candies, relishing the wonderful taste I got, so delectable and so... intense!

Wednesday, August 16, 2000

how to succeed in business

I'm not businesslike. Instead, I'm very happy. I am Jeffrey's delightful personality. I am witty, urbane and fun to be around. I am obviously lying to myself.

Cheerful and upbeat, I was on the phone last night with one of my fellow student workers from the office. He and I had planned to go see a movie called "Groove." The show was about rave culture and clubbing.

A veteran clubkid, I was looking forward to seeing it. The *last* time we went to see the movie, the projector was broken. Can you believe it? I mean, the *least* they can do is maintain the projector so that people won't go all the way across town to see a show that won't happen!

Anyway, the show was cancelled and I we had re-scheduled it for last night. But I couldn't go, because I had to call a friend who was coming into town from Chicago.

So I'm sending him my regrets when he tells me that most the student workers at the office have planned a trip to Jazzland, Louisiana's premier themepark, located just outside of New Orleans.

And I'm not invited! The hurt! The pain! I spiral down a Hitchcockian vortex in my mind... I'm right back in elementary school and the other kids don't want me to join in with their reindeer games. Ouch.

I am Jeffrey's sense of rejection. I'm ballooning up, out of control, to fill his entire head. I am Jeffrey's new headache.

No tears, but just a sour feeling in my gut. Trying not to sound disappointed, I end the call.

How to succeed in business? By not really crying.

Friday, August 11, 2000

the exquisite corpses of my family

My family is alive. They’re safe and well, so don’t let the title of this entry frighten you. Have you ever seen an exquisite corpse? I have. It was just over a month ago on the beginning of the famed Route 66. At the beginning of that famous highway is the Art Institute of Chicago. This is where I sighted my very first exquisite corpse. It’s not a dead body.

In fact, it’s a very vivacious art form that grew out of a party game. Take a white piece of paper and fold it so that the fold lines are parallel, separating the page into the same number of guests at a party. (I suspect that 3-5 is the best range.) Each person draws a portion of a larger image. For example, the first person draws an elephant’s head (on the top of the page), being careful to draw slightly past the fold so that the next person can have some clue where to start drawing. The next artist doesn’t see the picture, only a few spare lines that go over the fold, since the first person has folded their picture back so that the second person can’t see it. Then the next person draws a portion of an image, with a slight bit of overlap with the next person, until the picture is completed. No one knows, except for a little hint, what the previous person has drawn. So it’s a delightfully random exercise. The examples of the art form that I saw at the museum were quirky, ingenious and very sexual. I may have seen one drawn at a party, partly sketched out by Salvador Dalí. Or perhaps that is just my imagination, I’m not certain. But I am certain that, upon seeing the exhibit, I immediately wanted to try my hand at creating an exquisite corpse at my next family gathering. You see, my immediate family is very creative and I knew that it would be an engaging exercise. I also knew that it might be worth it to try the same idea with a story. So my family tried it with words instead of images. A blank page and a post-it note with the character names was passed around, with only a sentence showing for the next author to springboard from. Here are the results:

The tunnel-vision story of Kublah Kahn and his marble collection

Delform found a crystal blue "thumper" – the most sought-after marble in the entire game one autumn. He had promised Dumas, his evil twin, that together they would unleash the spirit of Kublah Kahn, who was trapped inside the aquamarine sphere. Together they plotted how they would steal Delform’s mystic marble and release Kahn’s maniacal powers!

"If only Delform would have taken me to the school dance, I wouldn’t have had to steal his powers," Brikabrae lamented. Dumas quietly nodded assent, as he smelled the seskwarilla blossom.

"I will avenge him," Brikabrae continued. Dumas just continued to examine the flower.

"So where shall our quest begin? In the South Garden?"

Dumas agreed that the secret could be found in the South Garden; it was there that they would find a way to steal Delform’s power.

But Delform knew the garden well; in fact, he grew up there! Brikabrac [whose name mysteriously changed from writer to writer] didn’t have a chance – he could be considered mere clutter from now on: dust caught in a universe of sandstorms. However, Dumas thought his superior intellect would see him through.

Little did he know that Delform was a transformer. Delmar, using these powers turned into a spaceship and jettisoned into outer space where he and Brikabrac reunited. They established abase on Mars and ruled the universe happily ever after.

Exquisite corpse story #2 [untitled]

Once upon a time, Flabby Sue went up the mountainside in search of gold. Upon finding none, she found a beautiful young man named Eric Van Strong. Sadly, Eric was the betrothed bridegroom to Sue Sweety Pie. Flabby Sue was furious to find that he was promised to another. She was determined to have her way!

She turned to Sue Sweety Pie and slapped her sharply across the face. Flabby Sue shouted, "I have always loved Eric and always will." With tears streaming down her pretty pink cheeks, Sue Sweety Pie said, "what gives you the right to rule my world?"

"The right is inherent within Newton’s Fundamental Laws of motion!" boomed Eric Van Strong. "I see right through your ‘inertial balogna!’" declared Flabby Sue as she raised her feared Fist of Cholesterol. Immediately, Eric Van Strong clutched his chest and slowly knelt while witnessing Flabby’s glowing fist and wrenched face.

"Now, Sweety Pie, while he’s weak!" Grunted Flabby. "Right, Flabby Sue… Sweety Pie Power!! exclaimed Sweety Pie Sue. With her exaltation, Sweety Pie emitted a beam of energy leaving her chest and striking Van Strong in the face. Luckily, Van Strong had built up quite a tolerance for Sweety Pie's energy beams. He just laughed it off as usual. Flabby Sue looked embarrassed by the entire spectacle and tried vainly to conceal her flushed face. Van Strong took Flabby Sue by the hand and said, "Who needs a light beam emitting chest, anyway? That's so passe!" Sweety Pie laughed nervously and yelled, "This is a Christmas we won't soon forget!"


So, how do you like them apples? I thought they were fun. You never really know where the story is headed, from paragraph to paragraph. (Obviously, the authors don’t either!) Another interesting note is that each author has a unique tone and descriptive style. The different writing styles are indicative of the personalities of my family – Even if I’d not seen the handwriting, I would have easily identified my Mom’s playful voice, my Dad’s strong characterization and my brother’s propensity for logical, scientific discourse.

Why don’t you try to create an exquisite corpse at your next party? It’s more fun than board game or entertainment from a box. Also, you might want to visit the New Orleans-based e-zine of the same title. I’m not sure why it’s the same title, but it somehow suits it. The ‘zine is a no-holds-barred look at pop culture:

Thursday, August 10, 2000


I put a little cornflower blue check with my "J-blend" autograph in a self-sealing envelope. The Wile E. Cayote and Road Runner stamp I bought last week seemed a great addition to the boring exterior of the envelope.

I mailed it off to the city food bank last week. After I'd sent in my charitable donation, I realized that I should have put a special request with my bequeath. (I mean, why not? Wealthy benefactors often do such things, so why not me?)

I should have made the donation contingent on the food bank only buying Hostess brand ding-dong chocolate cakes with my money. That might have made somebody's day a little brighter over there at the food bank. A homeless man would get a delightfully sweet snack along with his stale bread and over-cooked vegetables!

Everybody would have enjoyed that!

Or maybe not. That might have been a bit on the selfish side, now that I think about it.

When I wrote the title for this entry, I actually didn't have my recent donation in mind.

No. The "worthy cause" that I referred to is actually Mr. Potpies himself, Gavin MacLoud. He's a fellow journal writer who has recently hit a dry spell. So all of his readers have had to simply *do without* his glorious, insightful and delightfully quirky writing. So he enlisted the help of some of his online pals. I came to the rescue and sent him a little note this evening so that he'd have something to post on his page. It's like contributing a little square to a patchwork quilt. Sure, it's a small contribution, but it's part of a larger tapestry.

I hope he likes it. If he doesn't, I'll have to kill a whore.

Later, G!

J-blend. (This entry was typed without glasses, so please forgive any errata! Ta-ta!)

Tuesday, August 08, 2000

soiree for Fran

I grasped the podium and swallowed. The network cameras were trained on me. The crowd continued its thunderous applause. Smiling, I motioned for them to stop, so that I could begin my acceptance speech.

"I am honored to accept the nomination for my party ticket. I choose as my running mate... Pinot Noir! The wine can handle foreign policy and I’ll just sit here and look drunk. I hope that’s okay with the rest of the party."

This excerpt is from a party that I had the night of the Republican Party National Convention recently.

It was a dinner party for Françoisê (Fran-SWAH-zuh), a friend from Brittany, and her traveling companion, Karin from Calais. (I also invited Molly, their host and Douglas, a new student in my program at the university.)

Speaking of universities, I saw one the evening that I first met Françoisê. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The story begins a few years ago, when my brother, Christian, and I visited Europe.

It was Françoisê that showed us around Paris. Vivacious, talkative and funny, Christian and I were utterly charmed by Françoisê. Her delightful personality and her thoughtful answers to our cultural questions really impressed me. During our visit in Paris, we spent a weekend with her and her brother. They gave us an intriguing, very personal tour of the Place D’Italie and the Cité Université area. (Forgive any spelling errors.) We joined her, her brother and some friends from the university where he was working toward his master’s degree in French medieval history. We went to a rustic and out-of-the-way Polish restaurant where I met a cousin of the Pope!

It was my first taste Polish food – very hearty stuff. The cozy attic restaurant had a great atmosphere; small lamps dotted the long, roughly hewn tables. Each rustic table sat about 15-20 people. The meal was hearty but simple. I had some chicken in an onion and cream sauce. It was succulent and reminded me of something that I’d seen in a movie set in the Middle Ages. Overall, it was a gem of a restaurant, probably way below the radar of the tourist’s guidebook. I had a great time there just getting to know Françoisê and her friends. (There was a bit of confusion when a light burned out on the wooden chandelier, though… It took most of the staff to assist in rotating a waiter who sat atop a ladder to install the new bulb! "It must be a Polish thing," I remember theorizing to Christian.)

Anyway, I have fond memories of that spirited weekend that stand out from our marathon two-and-a-half month trek through Europe when we met the amiable and gregarious Françoisê. The hours we spent enjoying conversation, good wine and her ready laughter were hours very well spent indeed.

But, as they used to say on the PBS TV’s "Reading Rainbow" show, "don’t take my word for it!" Just so you know Fran’s point of view, here’s a little note that she wrote for me to include in my "Very Brady Europe" scrapbook:

"I remember that wonderful weekend in Paris when I was

lucky enough to meet the two very nice brothers. They

made me feel comfortable right away and I felt I was

meeting old friends. Well, Jeffrey and Christian, Thank

you for that special weekend and I’m ready to meet you

again somewhere soon, somewhere in France, maybe?"

-Françoisê 8/4/00 Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Quite a glowing memory on both sides, right?

Well, I’m pleased to report that last night, I planned a get together with the express purpose of recreating that same sense of camaraderie and friendship, and I succeeded.

I began by dropping by my neighbor, Tom’s house, to visit for a while and pick up some fresh herbs. Out of his garden, I picked some fragrant rosemary sprouts and some basil leaf stems. Picking these scented plants left my hands with the unmistakable cologne of the gardener. I probably turned a few curious heads in the grocery store as I passed by, smelling like an herbal shampoo commercial. ("I’ve got the urge to herbal!" I kept thinking, as I walked down the aisles!) At the store, I picked up a few ingredients for the pizza and the tandori spice dip hors d’horves. I asked the girls to try some Napa Valley wines, since they’d never have a chance to try them in France. After calling the girls over, I quickly made the dough for the crust.

Doug, a fellow student at the university, came by just as I was finishing making the dessert marinade: apples and mangos in a butter, rum and nutmeg sauce. I planned to use it as compote over vanilla ice cream, which Doug was kind enough to contribute.

Since I had been neglecting my cam fans, I decided to point the J-blend video cam directly at the kitchen, so the cooking festivities could be shared by people near and far. Doug, who kept me company while I was finishing the preparations, was very shy about being on camera. I have no idea why. Some people are funny that way. But despite his bashfulness, I was glad that he came by early. It gave us a chance to get to know each other mono a mono. I’ve only shared his company at book club and at parties. Really, the only time that we’ve had alone is a lunch date a few months back. We went to the little vegetarian place, Fortune Kitchen, near campus.

Doug tried his best to duck out of the way of the cam, but I suspect he accidentally broadcast his strawberry blond head a few times… The cam was pointed directly in the kitchen, so I bet we had plenty of viewers curious to see why I was outside my normal cam range.

When the girls arrived, I was in the bathroom washing the cooking mess off of my hands. He graciously served as interim-host while I was gone. When I got back to the party, I was so happy to see Françoisê that I gave her a big French greeting. (You know the one, where I grab her shoulders and kiss her on both cheeks?) After I uncorked and poured the Pinot Noir, we gathered around the living room to chat.

We nibbled on cheese and crackers and talked up a storm. The girls were having a great time during their visit to the states. I asked them what was the most surprising thing about this country was the size of the streets and roads. "They’re so wide!" Karin exclaimed. She didn’t say anything about the lack of good cheese. But I guess she was just being polite. Fran said she really enjoyed seeing the day-to-day life of her hostess, Molly, so that she could get a clear understanding of a typical American daily routine. Karin agreed. I knew what they meant, since I had been fortunate enough to live with people for a few days in Germany, England, France, New Zealand and of course Japan. Each time I did so, I always learned a thousand little truths about the country and its people that I would have missed out on from a typical hostel or hotel stay. So I understood what she was saying.

I asked the two girls what they’ve been up to for the past few weeks. They said that Dallas was a treat to visit. While there, Fran got to meet a long-time pen pal for the first time. I knew how much fun that could be! I had the same experience a few years ago when I met my pen friend, Paula, in Seattle/Tacoma.

The girls also got to see New Orleans. The only problem about their time in New Orleans was that Molly locked the keys in the car and then, once they got in it, the car wouldn’t start. Ouch. That’s about as fun as sticking your wooden leg into a termite colony.

Molly recounted this tale of auto-woe so hilariously that I laughed out loud. Next, everyone went to have a dip in the pool while I put the finishing touches on the pesto pizza with garlic, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.

I popped it in the oven and then took a quick dip myself, during the 15-minute baking time. I was busy splashing the girls when I it dawned on me that I’d not yet cooked with this oven yet and I wasn’t sure if it was in proper working order. So I cut short my little swim and rushed back to the apartment.

Walking in I immediately started shivering, since my roommate keeps the thermostat at 60. I made a mad dash to the bathroom where I dried off as quickly as I could, nearly slipping on the bathroom floor tiles.

The pizza came out perfectly. It was rich and delicious. Even the crust, the hardest part to get right, turned out excellent.

Before long, we moved on to dessert. The vanilla ice cream that Doug brought over went really well with the compote. It’s a shame Jim, my roommate, didn’t want any compote with his. I’m sure he would’ve liked it. But he doesn’t like to try new things sometimes.

When he came back to the apartment, he joined in the party long enough to sit and make snide remarks at everything everyone said. That wasn’t very amusing. In fact, it was rather embarrassing. But Jim’s kind of sociopathic that way, especially when it comes to people from other cultures. That’s just his way, I suppose. (It makes me sad for him, though.... It's very self-destructive. I suppose it helps his self-esteem to cut other people down because they're different so that he'll like himself more.)

After Jim’s mini-tirades, Doug had to go home to leave. He seemed very uncomfortable. Maybe it was something Jim said. Here’s the note I sent him to fill in the rest of the details of the evening’s happenings:

Dear Doug,

After you left, the girls and I went to

Churchill's, an English-style pub just around the

corner from here.

We bought some more Pinot Noir and just sat around

drinking. Karin bought a vanilla cigar and we

puffed at that a little bit, too. Yum. Red wine

goes with good conversation and leather furniture

so well. Sorry that you had to leave so early.

I'm so glad you came by. I hope I didn't hog the

conversation too much -- I'm a gregarious fellow,

as you know….

* * * * * * * * * *

So that’s about it. I’m not the world’s best entertainer, but I’d like to think that I’m okay at dinner parties. I hope that I can spend some more time with the girls before they return to Calais and Brittany. If my brother comes into town Friday, I might go and eat out with the girls again.

Monday, August 07, 2000


Tonight I returned from my 10-year Baton Rouge Magnet High School. What an experience that was, to see again through new eyes the same faces that I knew as an adolescent. I was glad to be reminded of my old connections and make some new ones.

In terms of background, I should point out that most of my high school experience is shrouded by the fog of my poor memory. It was a blur. This might be a defense mechanism. Or it could be the forgetful nebulae that tend to cloud the Jeffreyverse. Maybe it�s a little of both.

Thankfully, there were some very memorable exceptions to my forgetfulness. The only times I really enjoyed myself was in:

English literature (where I really understood everything in class!),

Gymnastics (I competed on the team!),

Piano (I composed my own sonatas and variations on Chopin!),

Drama (I played a supporting part in a comedy!)

Geometry (when I understood math for the first time, ever!)

and Social Studies (I made it to the state finals!).

Besides these few outlets, I poured most of my energies into my class work, into my musical compositions, into anything, really, but social interaction. I was nervous when I stopped to speak with people, especially the other boys. My cruelest handicap was my speech impediment. (Did other people notice it as much as I did? I wonder. We�re so limited in our perspective during those years.) It was a st-st-stacatto, syncopated stutter. It frustrated some and evoked p-pity in others. It was my c-c-constant c-companion. My stutter erupted the second someone t-turned to face me.

I don�t know when or why it started. But it never seemed to stop. My mind always seemed to be traveling at a different speed than my mouth. I was a nervous boy with an uncomfortable laugh and a concentrated frown. I spoke too fast, with watchful eyes. I swallowed my words. I was much too shy to even attempt proper communication.

The stutter sort of led to other problems. All in all, I was about as outgoing as a deaf, mute leper.

I was a bashful, gangly and clumsy. It was pretty rough sometimes. I contemplated suicide for about five minutes once, then realized that it would be too wasteful. Most of my problems stemmed from plain old garden-variety low self-esteem. So, wrapped in a coat of insecurity, I hibernated, socially speaking, for the better part of those four years. Nervously, I wondered when I would ever wake from my slumber. Who would be the face of spring?

Thank God I came out of my shell in college. I�m not really sure what did it. But there was a gradual tempering of my acute case of bashfulness. (I heard they actually have a drug now for this kind of social anxiety. I suppose that I could have used it in school. If only I could have popped a magic pill back then!) But the sleeper in me awoke gradually from its snooze. Maybe it was just a matter of finding myself and getting to know that I was a person that people liked. That kind of confidence takes time to build.

I arrive at the picnic and Theresa White, the gregarious class president, greets me. She immediately cheers me up. (See, I volunteered to perform the public relations for the reunion a few months ago, but I discouraged because I had not seen any useful results on TV, radio or print.)

She informs me that the public service announcements that I wrote and broadcast to the local media actually got used. She got calls from people who had heard about the reunion from a handful of sources. So that was great news; the five or six hours that I invested in the project actually proved fruitful.

My next surprise was that I was very comfortable around the "popular people" who used to wreck my nerves and cause me to go all stutteriffic. (That word makes it sound like a swellegant speech impediment, doesn�t it? Well it�s not; it�s about as much fun as a kick in the crotch.)

No stutters. No worries. Good times: I was laughing, carrying on and having a great time. And my reputation actually preceded me � in a good way, for once � because most people had read the school�s homepage Jeffreybio or browsed my personal site. It was great.

Several asked me where my ex-boyfriend was... I had mentioned him in my bio, while we were still dating, of course. I told them that I am single now, but I've taken a great leap of faith and decided to investigate the possibility of meeting a perfectly delightful guy that I've met online. I got some raised eyebrows at that little revelation.

But overall, the electronica helped to jog their memories about me. In one case, it piqued someone's interest very keenly. One guy even did a little bow and feigned awe at meeting me: "Oh, is this the J-Blended Jeffrey? The one that I�ve seen on J-blend�s viewcam?!?" He then proceeded to kiss my ring finger, as if I were the Pontiff.

But I was far away from thoughts of my J-blend cam as I wandered around my school after lunch. I strolled through the halls of my alma mater, which had the same comfortable but slightly run-down smell of hardwood panels, wood cleaner and adolescent hormones that I so vividly remember. It wasn�t smaller or bigger than I remember. My visual impressions were very accurate. So were my other sense memories.

The marble stairs still had the shallow valleys subtly carved by nearly a century of wear. The hallway floors still shined with the high-buffed wax that reflected sunlight to the very center of the building. Brightly colored stained glass, in carefully designed geometrical shapes, still adorned the second floor windows. The bathroom air still stung my olfactory centers with the scent of industrial cleaners. Overall, the entire experience was quietly and distinctly cozy.

At the picnic, the jambalaya and salad weren�t bad. Toddlers in Gap Kids clothes and sunglasses wandered around, stumbling on the old oak tree roots and watching the squirrels. Some of the childless couples brought their dogs. One of the dogs sniffed a kid and the little girl kissed the bulldog�s nose. A chorus of surrounding mothers and pet-owners deafened me with aah�s and "How cute!�s" at this point. I laughed at their reaction as much as I laughed at the unexpected pooch-smooch.

The heat was a bit on the oppressive side, but most everyone was used to that. The classmates� stories I heard were mostly very upbeat and positive. Only one stood out as a little sad. While we had our share of up-and-coming dot-com creators and bankers, doctors and lawyers, I met a guy who was in the army and completely loved it. Then he was honorably discharged (he didn�t go into why), and is now a McDonald�s manager: that, I thought, was a little shocking, especially for a Baton Rouge High School graduate. (It is a rigorous preparatory school with high standardized test scores.)

My favorite alumni jobs included teacher-come opera singer, a federal agent, a folk music artist, a teacher at the Rutgers university lab school, a beach bum in Hawaii, a housewife in Southern France, and a poverty-level graduate student with little or no direction in life. Wait � no -- that�s me. Sorry. Did I type that?

I enjoyed talking with the teachers in the crowd. I suspect we had a disproportionately high amount of teachers per capita, since the school had a real academic focus and booted out students who couldn�t maintain a certain grade point average. I spoke with several teachers, who all enjoyed the job immensely, but bemoaned the high energy level the profession required, and the all-day, every day nature of the work. I just nodded and empathized. Sharing a few of my experiences about my time in Japan, I entertained them with the similarities and differences that I noticed about their educational system.

Everybody was spewing out invitations to visit them. I garnered invites (from mostly sober speakers!) to cities as close to home as New Orleans and as far flung as Hawaii and France. I was genuinely touched by this display.

Another odd development was that more people remembered me than I thought would. (I don�t care if people�s pity circuits were kicking in when they spoke to me � white lies are perfectly acceptable since I�ve morphed into a truly different person since then. Case in point: I was referred to as "the quiet one" about a dozen times. The title suited me circa 1990, although I doubt that adjective would ever be applied to me these days.

I was especially happy to spend time with Ly, who was a member of the gymnastics team and the most markedly OUT member of our class. He�s been in a relationship for more than eight years and has bought a house with his sweetheart, Steve. Ly�s a federal agent and Steve is a police officer. It�s not your traditional household, to say the least. They seemed like an interesting couple and I was pleased to spend time with them. (Ly and Steve also gave me a ride to the evening social, just in case I wanted to drink.)

Just as I was packing up to leave the midday picnic, I ran into Ly arriving. He�d mistaken the e-mail invitation to read a start time of 2 rather than 12. The night before, at a reception that I passed up, Ly and Steve arrived at a seafood restaurant across the street from the actual meeting place. Fortunately, I explained to him the exact time and place for the evening reception. (He was planning on going to a restaurant next door! He would have been batting 0 for 3 in the accuracy department.)

Ly and Steve came by before the evening party to change into their dress clothes. They were properly semi-formal, while I was nothing if not casual. (This is typical for me.) We arrived and immediately started meeting warm and friendly classmates. The amicable mood showed me immediately that everyone had mellowed out really well and we�d all become more accustomed to social interaction in general. It was very pleasant.

Ly pointed out how many people had ballooned up and how many people looked exactly the same� The latter was the larger group. Some people just filled out a little like me.

Going to the bar to get a drink, I ran into Nathan, who was a chunky kid in school but had slimmed down nicely now. He was in flirt-mode, full speed ahead. I was shocked at how forward he was. Right after he kissed my hand, he dove for my neck and planted a sloppy, tongue kiss. He didn�t give me time to brace for the impact of that kiss and I sort of flinched. "Why didn�t I notice you in high school, baby?" he asked. It was rhetorical, in a drunken sort of way. "You! You! Look at you!" he screamed. I slowly stepped back, trying to protect myself from another unwanted lip-planting.

As soon as I could, I gracefully slipped away from Nathan. But just ten minutes later, he cornered me while I was dancing to "Like a Prayer." During the "/just like a muse to me/" line he grabbed my left nipple and pinched it really hard. It was painful and traumatic!

I�d never been physically attacked like that on a dance floor. And I�ve logged hundreds (if not thousands) of hours at hundreds of dance clubs. No one has ever grabbed me or pinched me like that, without my consent. It was totally inappropriate. Luckily, I�d come with a federal agent and an off-duty police officer. I knew I was safer than I�d ever been before from any sort of weirdo in a club setting.

At the evening event, the class president thanked her student body officers and the people who helped plan for the reunion. This included five girls and me. We lined up on the stage, under the bright lights, looking a little bit like the finalists in a beauty contest. (These are the moments when I never know what to do with my hands.)

Theresa explained our various volunteer contributions we made to the event and we got a light sprinkling of applause. Then we all got Blockbuster video store gift certificates. It was not a bad reward for a few hours� work.

Next we took a group photo. The laborious ritual was incredibly disorganized. The chaos made me long for the days of the lightening fast 30-second prep time group photos in Japan. (I swear, those people know how to take pictures!) People don�t assemble well in this country, compared to Japan. Of course, many of the people at the festivities last night had been imbibing, so I shouldn�t be too critical of them. The entire process of the photo took about 10 minutes. I stood towards the rear, on the "tall guys row," as the Cajun photographer called it. I was standing on chairs, trying hard not to lose my balance or cause some other catastrophe, being very thankful that I haven�t had anything to drink. I�m rubbing shoulders with two of the other members of the tall guys row and I begin talking with them, complaining that I feel like I�m in the third grade again because these kids around me don�t really follow directions well. The guy to my right laughs in agreement. It turns out that he�s an elementary school teacher and I couldn�t have made a better comparison.

We start talking and I realize that he was one of the five other Jeffs, Jeffreys, Jeffereys and Geofferys in our 240-member class.

Jeff, with his sparkling deep-set brown eyes, had an easy-going manner about him and a beautiful speaking voice. It was course enough to be interesting, although it wasn�t gravelly or raspy. He had dark blond hair and was about 6�2", just about my size and shape.

He�d just finished his master�s degree in education and he was teaching 5th grade in Texas. I was just beginning to enjoy our conversation when Nathan stumbled up to me again and wrapped his arms around my neck and started issuing not-so-subtle remarks about my package. Eyes rolling and cheeks flushing, I make a hasty retreat back towards Jeff, who is standing nearby. Nathan senses the futility in further pursuit and flanks back. Annoyed by this second incident with Nathan, I brush him off with an, "I�m talking with Jeff right now, can we talk later?" I issue an embarrassed smile to Jeff and tell him that I hate to give people rejections because I know how painful that is, but I don�t want a drunk guy touching me too much. We are unanimous in this concern and he then asks if I�m gay.

At this point, I took some offense to the fact that someone might mistake me as straight. (This can never be perceived as a compliment. To do so would be to incorrectly equate masculinity with a certain mode of speech or manner and to perceive so-called gay speech or mannerisms are somehow of lesser value. ) I didn�t say protest being mistaken for straight, however, deciding that the most direct approach would be the best: "Yes, I am. Big-time. How about you?"

"Well, I haven�t told anyone here this, but I�m gay, too," he confided, somewhat sheepishly. I was touched that Jeff felt comfortable enough to share that with me, although we didn�t even know each other in school.

Jeff went on to say that he�d just recently opened up to himself about his sexual identity and he�d never once dated a guy. I was wide-eyed with shock and pity. Here was this intelligent, well-spoken, attractive guy who loves teaching just like I do, who has never even been in a real relationship. Not only did I feel sorry for him, but I also felt concern for all the relationship possibilities that were contingent on his socialization, which he had not yet begun to explore. What a waste! I didn�t stand a chance a relationship with him, yet I felt cheated, as well. But I suppose my selfish concerns weren�t limited to just the present situation. No, my selfishness traveled back in time to the year 1990�

I knew that in a better world, he and I would have met in high school at the gay lesbian and bi student association meeting. He would have been my secretary and I would have been president. He�d have given me his class ring while he would have worn my letter jacket when we were "going steady."

I would have sat in his family living room, on the leather sofa across from his Dad. I would have drummed my fingers apprehensively on the coffee table, as his father told me his curfew rules. "Don�t worry, sir, I�ll have Jeff home in time," I would have brown-nosed my way into his parents� hearts. I would have been nervous as I pinned the nosegay to his lapel. (The baby�s breath would have shaken from my excited hands.) We would have gone to the dance together, with no one batting an eyelash at us. I would have made a connection during high school and joined the normal social order with Jeff�s name inscribed in my dance card.

This sudden wrinkle in the fabric of my high school existence startled me. Alternate time lines emerged from the depths of my stubborn imagination. Oh, if only I could leap through a wormhole and explore that glorious bifurcation from reality! But I couldn�t and I knew it. It wasn�t the fault of science, but that of slow social progress.

I had to laugh at myself. My imagination is a great asset, but in moments like this, I admitted, it�s also a great liability because it cruelly explores the "might have beens" that taunt and tease the romantic mind.

As these romantic notions flood my mind, Theresa takes the stage. I�m drawn back into reality � the here and now. Solemnly, she announces that one of our classmates has passed away since graduation. As she and a few others described him, I recall him vividly. I always remembered him as being very cheerful. Walter, the deceased, had participated in choir in school. I remembered he had a wonderful voice and I recalled thinking that he looked and sounded a lot like a Baptist preacher, with his soulful, mature eyes. Four people came up to eulogize Walter and their words were genuinely moving. "Such a loss � he was so full of possibilities," I thought to myself.

After a moment of silence, happier news followed. The awards were handed out. They were for the most- and least-changed since high school, for the person who had been in school the longest (thankfully, not me!) and the person who came the farthest to be at the reunion. Smiles all around. More drinks for everyone.

Jeff and I chatted a little more. Before long, the DJ began spinning some slow songs. They were 80s vintage. Automatically, I�d already shifted my weight to stand up from the table where I was sitting, about to grab Jeff�s hand. "I never got a chance to ask this in high school, so I�d like to make up for lost time� Would you join me for this dance?"

Awkwardness. I sense that I�m robbed again of possibility.

He apologized that he wasn�t comfortable enough with himself to do it. The tinge of regret in his tone is sincere. I was disappointed but not hurt. No. I am hurt, but not by his cowardliness. I�m hurt by the fact that Jeff is forced to work up courage simply to engage in a normal social ritual.

The pitiful irony here is that there are two guys that always danced together in high school that actually did so at the reunion a few moments before I asked Jeff. The two guys always frolicked about with a playful, distinctly platonic, but non-homophobic manner that bespoke a tightly knit friendship. "Why then, can they do it and not Jeff and me?" I thought angrily. Their silly, paltry dalliance mocked Jeff�s and my authentic attempt at flirtation. I took a deep breath and cursed those outmoded, arbitrary social constructs and the people, like Jeff, who were unconsciously fettered by them. I wanted to shout at Jeff, "Fuck the stigma! We�re going to have a good time tonight whether anyone else likes it or not!" What I lack � what I so sorely lack � is the intensity and strength to speak up and speak out against this kind of simple injustice. I take a deep breath to swallow my hurt. "This is how people get heart attacks," I tell myself. So I ask Jeff again, in a cajoling tone, if he won�t just dance a little. He declines. But he offers a compromise: I can walk him to his car.

We talk some more. I urge him to date a little, if not for himself, then as a public service to his community. Grins. He�s properly flattered. I turn the charm full on and he graciously welcomes it. Embraces it, even. We�re mentally holding hands soon. The eye contact is intimate and gives my heart a little flutter. Soon, he leaves me to say his good-byes to people around the room.

I am pulled into the dance area by B-52�s "Love Shack" song. I joined a girl that I remembered from drama class. She wore too much eye makeup then. But she�s gotten that under control now. Now, this bright-eyed marketing executive for Community Coffee, blonde and sassy with a distinctly club kid vibe, peers at me, cocks an eyebrow and gestures for me to join in on the 80s music fun. I comply. We have a great time, swaying to the catchy music. I get compliments from the circle of girls around me. One of them, a petit Vietnamese girl, whom I�d never had a class with, has a brief chat with me and then asks the pre-question, "Can I ask you something personal?"

"Yes, I�m gay," is the pat response I always offer to this query. I�ve never been off the mark yet with this reply. (Although I�m sure one day somebody will just blush and then ask another question entirely.)

"Great! I love dancing with gay guys," she raves. "You�re the best! You guys rock!" So we danced to some hip-hop and had a great time. After ten minutes, I exhaustedly thank her for the company and she invites me to visit her in Austin to go clubbing and insists that she and I went to elementary school together, which we didn�t. I concede after I notice the liquor on her breath.

By this time, Jeff comes by and asks me to walk him to his car.

It was a short walk. I was struck at just how little I knew about him, since we�d only talked for half an hour or so. He said he had to drive back to Texas the next morning, so he had to leave early. I didn�t try to argue. "So now what?" he asks bluntly as we�ve said our good-byes.

"So now I give you a hug and a kiss goodbye, if that�s okay." His smile is all the answer I require. We embrace and I�m immediately sorry again that I�d not known him in school. Feeling him next to me, just like this, would have staved off much teen angst on my part.

We kiss. It�s a simple one. I brush him lightly with my lips and taste the roughness of his stubble and the moistness of his lips. His eyes are open wide, glittering. I wonder if he can sense my irrepressible regret. I hope he can�t.

I tell him that he was the best part of the reunion. It�s not just a line. He was. My brief moments with Jeff were an essential element to the experience. He added an element to the affair that I won�t soon forget: a connection with the past and the present.

But upon reflection, perhaps the best part of the experience was actually not an external at all. The best aspect for me was simply the re-examination of Jeffrey at 17 by the Jeffrey at 27. I have never before thought about my growth experience in such concrete terms. I tried to pin it down, but I couldn�t do it: "When did I alter my course?" Was it my academic work in college? My extra-curricular affairs (double meanings galore)? Or was it the adventures of my Japonic era? It�s impossible to say.

The reunion experience, for me, was like the unearthing of an emotional time capsule. I burrowed through the strata of the silent years. I discovered the many colors and facets of my former self. I contemplated the definition of Jeffrey in 1990. Like a high school English test essay question, I compared and contrasted the two characters�

They were basically the same, but the older one has more glide in his stride. The mature character better understood his place in this world.

He can properly triangulate and navigate the social geography of his peer group.

Jeffrey at 27 is a little bolder, brighter, more unapologetically himself. He is stronger and wiser. He is definitely on the right path toward a happy 20th reunion with old friends in 2010.